A Film a Week - Nö

 previously published on Cineuropa

Six years after his Crystal Globe competition title, Heil, Dietrich Brüggemann returns to Karlovy Vary with his latest film, , which is having its international premiere in the festival’s main competition, following a world premiere at the Munich Film Festival a month ago. also marks a creative reunion between Brüggemann and his sister Anna Brüggemann: seven years earlier, they together co-wrote Stations of the Cross, which remains Brüggemann’s biggest international success to date. Although the topic of this new film is quite different, some parallels could be drawn between the two titles.

This time, brother and sister Brüggemann examine love, marriage (or its equivalent, a long-term relationship in adulthood) and the values of today’s 30-somethings who, seen from the outside, appear to have everything they need to lead a successful, fulfilled, happy life, but are never content. Anna Brüggemann stars as Dina, who we meet in bed with her partner Michael (Alexander Khoun, who collaborated with Dietrich Brüggemann on Heil) while the two are having a lengthy conversation. Michael suggests a break-up, since the couple has different goals in life (Dina is, for instance, set on having children, and Michael is not too keen on committing himself in that way), but Dina rejects the possibility by arguing that, if there is one thing humankind can manage to do anytime, it is to have and raise children.

In the next 14 one-take scenes, we follow their relationship as it develops through phases. We get to see Dina’s pregnancy and the couple breaking the news to their parents. We see them during the different stages of parenthood, which affect their professional lives (Dina is an actress, Michael is a surgeon). We see them in a two-kids-family-unit-setting and we see them finally breaking up due to growing character differences. We never see them happy, or even content.

One-take scenes, usually from a fixed position and in a wider shot, are something of a signature style for Brüggemann, who did basically the same thing but taken to the extreme in Stations of the Cross. That formal rigidity made sense in that film, since it dealt with religious fundamentalism and poisoned family relations. Here, Brüggemann opts for a more relaxed variation: the one-take scenes are divided one from another by textual cards printed over black screen, but not all of them are static, which suggests some sense of fluidity and constant change in the dynamics between people in a relationship and within a family.

Dietrich Brüggemann shows a low-key absurdist sense of humour, using framing, shot composition and mise-en-scene to highlight the absurdities of modern daily life. Both of the lead actors show the kind of chemistry (or lack thereof) needed for their characters to be convincing in the misery of their “daily grind,” as well as perfect comic timing to highlight the absurdity of those situations, while other characters are relegated to small episodes and types. Brüggemann’s own score is played in an austere fashion and comes in handy. However, the real stars of the film are Brüggemann’s “house” cinematographer Alexander Sass (some of his shots are real masterpieces), the production designer Cosima Vellenzer and the costume designer Juliane Maier, who make this formally rigid film look lively enough for its two hours of runtime, which nevertheless feel a bit too long.

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